This Month’s Real Story: Rusty

Rusty with his Mom

Story at-a-glance -

  • Rusty the Yorkie was over treated for oral infections and other diseases before he eventually received a diagnosis of cutaneous epitheliotropic T-cell lymphosarcoma (CETL).
  • CETL is a rare form of cancer that occurs in humans, dogs, cats and other animals. The disease first affects the skin, but can metastasize to lymph nodes and other organs. Most treatments used against CETL in dogs are ineffective, and the prognosis is poor.
  • By the time Dr. Becker met Rusty in May 2010, the poor fellow had scabs over 60 percent of his body including in his ear canals, secondary infections, flakey skin and a very dry coat.
  • Thanks to a healing protocol that included cancer fighting and immune support supplements, a raw food diet, twice weekly baths, and a very committed pet owner, Rusty celebrated 2 years in remission in May 2012.

By Dr. Becker

The handsome little fellow in the picture is Rusty, a 9-year-old Yorkshire terrier and the hero of this month's case study.

Rusty's Health History

Rusty was born in January 2003 in the home of a private breeder. He was a happy, healthy boy during his first years of life except for a period during 2005 when he gained too much weight. Rusty's mom took a job with a long commute, so she left a bowl of dry food out to keep him from getting too hungry. Rusty ended up with the opposite problem - he became overweight from munching kibble all day.

Rusty's vet recommended Purina Overweight Management dog food (a low calorie, high fiber formula) and his mom complied. Over the next few years, Rusty dropped from 21 to 14 pounds. His mom was diligent about taking him for twice yearly vet checkups, but unfortunately, Rusty's traditional vet gave him annual rabies vaccines, five-way combination parvo/distemper vaccines, and the occasional bordetella vaccine.

Rusty Develops Bad Breath, Oral Infection, and Ear, Nose and Mouth Ulcers

Rusty also received professional dental cleanings by his vet, but in February 2010, his mom realized Rusty's breath had progressed from a bit stinky to foul. He underwent another cleaning and was given antibiotics to resolve an oral infection, but the infection actually grew worse. Little Rusty also began to develop ulcers in his ears, nose and mouth.

Rusty's vet referred him to a dental specialist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital for suspected chronic ulcerative paradental stomatitis (CUPS) disease.

The specialist at the university wasn't convinced Rusty's problem was CUPS. Instead, he thought the dog had a very significant dental infection. Extensive oral surgery was performed, including the extraction of 18 teeth (page 1). Rusty was discharged with more antibiotics.

Rusty's Condition Worsens

Unfortunately, Rusty's mouth did not heal as expected. A month later in March 2010, his mouth was still inflamed and bleeding, the ulcerations in his ears were painful and bleeding, and he had developed crusty sores all over his little body.

Rusty was referred back to the University of Illinois, this time to the veterinary dermatology department. There he underwent multiple skin scrapings, cultures, and three biopsies.

Before receiving the lab results, the dermatologist warned Rusty's mom that her dog probably had a terrible bacterial skin infection. So on March 22nd when she learned Rusty had a type of cancer called cutaneous epitheliotropic T-cell lymphosarcoma (page 2-4), she was stunned.

Rusty's Rare Cancer

Cutaneous epitheliotropic T-cell lymphosarcoma (CETL) is a rare cancerous disease of the skin that occurs in humans, dogs, cats and several other animals.

In dogs, CETL can occur anywhere on the skin, and is very commonly seen on the face and in the mouth. In its early stages, CETL is difficult to diagnose because the lesions closely resemble many other inflammatory skin diseases.

CETL is a type of lymphoma that affects the skin first, but it can metastasize (spread) to lymph nodes and other organs.

Traditional treatments for canine CETL include Prednisone, topical nitrogen mustards, vitamin A analogues, radiation and photodynamic therapy, and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, none of these treatments, alone or in combination, are consistently successful.

The prognosis for dogs with this disease is poor, and in fact, most pets are euthanized before they reach the stage of tumor development due to uncontrollable skin lesions.

The dermatologist suspected Rusty had developed cancer at the point when his breath became really foul-smelling. He also believed Rusty's mouth and ear ulcers were not the result of an infection, but were actually skin and mouth cancer.

By this time Rusty's skin was a mess. He was one big scab from head to toe. The dermatologist estimated Rusty had only a few months to live, prescribed Prednisone, and referred him to an oncologist there at the Teaching Hospital.

The oncologist completed an extensive examination of Rusty, including x-rays and ultrasounds which showed the cancer had not spread to other parts of his body.

She suggested CCNU chemotherapy, which she felt would give him an additional six weeks to live. Rusty's owners decided to investigate natural treatment options instead.

The oncologist recommended in addition to the essiac tea Rusty's owners had started giving him, that they also give safflower oil twice a week in his food. She also suggested they change his food to one with a higher fat content than Purina Overweight Management. Studies show dogs fighting cancer can benefit from a higher fat (no carb) diet.

Rusty's First Visit to My Clinic

I met Rusty on May 18, 2010. His mom wrote the following on her new patient paperwork:

"My hope: I would like to change Rusty's diet to either a fish based diet or something that Dr. Becker might recommend. I would like to keep Rusty on essiac tea and safflower oil. I would like to be able to wean him off the Prednisone if I could. I would like to see Rusty go into remission and his ears clear up without any bleeding."

Good goals! I concurred!

Rusty was a bright, alert and happy little fellow. This, despite scabs over 60 percent of his body which were secondarily infected with opportunistic bacteria and yeast. And he was stinky!

I could not see into his ear canals due to the dense scabs inside his ears that were surely painful. His gums were bright cherry red, and his cheeks still had a few visible ulcers.

In addition to dozens of scabs, Rusty's skin was flakey, his coat was extremely dry, and his hair fell out whenever anyone petted him.

Rusty's Protocol

During that first visit, Rusty's mom and I discussed his biologic need for a rich, abundant source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids that were not present in the Purina diet he was eating. These oils come only from marine body sources, so I suggested the addition of 500mg of pure fish oil (making sure there were no mercury contaminants or PCBs).

We also discussed the importance of a balance of essential fatty acids. The correct ratio of omega-3's (the newly added fish oil) and omega-6's (abundant in most dry foods, and also safflower oil) was not correct for Rusty. I suggested she discontinue the safflower oil and begin supplementing coconut oil, as the lauric acid naturally found in coconut oil would be very beneficial for Rusty's struggling immune system.

Controlling secondary skin infections was also an important part of the protocol, and I didn't want Rusty on additional antibiotics. I suggested to his mom that she add the essential oil frankincense to her current prescribed antimicrobial shampoo, and increase baths to twice a week. And I recommended she allow the shampoo lather to stand on his skin for 5 minutes before rinsing. The essential oil should help not only treat the skin infection, but also be beneficial for reducing tumor cell growth.

I added medicinal mushrooms to help bolster Rusty's immune defenses. He also needed to be weaned off the Prednisone and onto a plant derived alternative. And he should never under any circumstances be given another vaccine.

Lastly, Rusty was transitioned to a raw fresh food diet, naturally abundant in antioxidants and flavonoids his body needed to fight his battle against cancer.

Rusty Celebrates Two Years in Remission

Gradually, over several months, Rusty's skin began to improve. At each successive visit I saw progress. He had fewer scabs, a better hair coat, and the inflammation and sores in his ears and mouth were improving.

Twice a week baths were a time consuming and messy part of his protocol, but Rusty's mom was diligent and stuck with it, along with providing the supplements I recommended and the raw diet. By May 2011, Rusty was in remission.

This past May, Rusty celebrated two years in remission! He is a happy, healthy, thriving Yorkie thanks to his mom's commitment to doing whatever it takes to keep her dog's quality of life excellent.